WEEKLY NEWS SUMMARY - DECEMBER 23, 2020
In this week's Intersect, read about:
Iraq Declares Christmas an Official Holiday
Although Iraq is 98% Muslim, Christmas will become a public holiday throughout the country this year. The Iraqi Parliament passed the proposal with a unanimous vote Wednesday. It came just months before a historic visit to Iraq by Pope Francis. During an October 17 meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, proposed extending the Christmas holiday to all of Iraq. It had been a national holiday one year, and on a regular basis is an official holiday in only one province. During the meeting, Salih, a Kurd who studied in Great Britain, recognized the role of Christian communities in the reconstruction of Iraq and reaffirmed the country’s commitment to assist the return of displaced Christians, beginning with Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, following jihadist occupation. In 2008, the government had declared Christmas a “once-only” holiday, but that was not repeated in subsequent years. Only the province of Kirkuk has granted a Christmas holiday. Read more at Aleteia
Auxiliary Bishop Basilio Yaldo of Baghdad called the vote on the holiday historic “because today Christmas is truly a celebration for all Iraqis.” He continued, “This is a message of great value and great hope for Christians and for all of Iraq…” In 2008, the government of Iraq declared Christmas a “one-time holiday” and in 2018, the parliament amended the law to make Christmas for all citizens. But after each occasion, it was not renewed. In a country with a population of over 38 million, Christian leaders estimate there are fewer than 250,000 Christians remaining. The Christian population has declined over the past 17 years from a pre-2002 population estimate of between 800,000 and 1.4 million persons. But the persecution of Christians in Iraq remains. After years of strife, by 2014 it was reported that 90% of the Orthodox Christians in the nation had been displaced. Most of them are still refugees and have been unable to return home. Still, others who remained are leaving now. In other international news, in its final newsletter for 2020, Asia Harvest writes that tens of thousands of house church pastors and evangelists across China have gone into hiding as the Communist Party continues its assault on Christianity in an attempt to eradicate it from the country. Pastors have disconnected from their phones and computers so that government authorities can no longer use those devices to track their movements. These pastors have also reportedly destroyed the microchips inside their ID cards so authorities cannot track their locations using those devices either. “Each person in China must have an ID card. It is impossible for a person to catch a flight or train, open a bank account, get a job, or rent an apartment without using their card. Each ID card contains a computer chip which is also used to track people's movements,” the newsletter added. But the Body of Christ has grown to such a tremendous size under Communism that the government will find it impossible to completely eradicate God's people. Instead, the authorities have been putting plans into place to corrupt the Gospel. By doing so, they hope to control the Church and ultimately render it powerless and subservient to the Communist system. No matter what the government tries to stop, we know that as Acts 5:39 says, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
Pray specifically for the people in Iraq and China. Lord, whatever the governments of this world do, we declare that You are our Lord and King. Whatever may come, may we hope in You and not in the things, circumstances, and political tides of this world. Draw us closer to You. May we hunger for Your Word and may it grow deeper roots in our lives so we can discern truth, follow Your biblical commands, trust in Your promises, and withstand any persecution we may face.
Learn more about the work of Asia Harvest and their China Bible Fund. You can see the map where they are working to distribute Bibles throughout the country, despite the persecution and government crackdowns. An estimated 3-5 million Chinese are becoming new believers every year! Consider donating to provide a Bible to these new brothers and sisters in Christ.
$900B COVID Relief Bill Passed by Congress, Sent to Trump
Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Monday night that would finally deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Lawmakers tacked on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other end-of-session business in a massive bundle of bipartisan legislation as Capitol Hill prepared to close the books on the year. The bill goes to President Donald Trump for his signature, which is expected in the coming days. The relief package, unveiled Monday afternoon, sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours. The Senate cleared the massive package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved the COVID-19 package by another lopsided vote, 359-53. The tallies were a bipartisan coda to months of partisanship and politicking as lawmakers wrangled over the relief question, a logjam that broke after President-elect Joe Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked. read more at The Associated Press
The 5,593-page legislation, by far the longest bill ever, included a signature provision that will give qualifying taxpayers $600 payments. Legislators released the text of the bill on Monday afternoon after a computer glitch held it up, meaning there was little time to read all that it included before Congress voted. Within hours of its release, the hashtag #LetThemEatCake was trending on Twitter as outrage boiled over from both Republicans and Democrats. To many, Congress' second stimulus check plan was likened to Marie Antoinette's signature (and oft-disputed) quote of "Let them eat cake," which, legend has it, she supposedly said when she was serving as the queen of France during the French Revolution and peasants were starving throughout her country. Even Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson chimed in stating, "Politicians put people out of work, killed small businesses, and said it was to protect us. And now Congress wants to send Americans $600 for their troubles?" In a Senate floor speech given before the vote that has now gone viral, Senator Rand Paul said “This bill is free money for everyone. Proponents don’t care if you’re fully employed, or own your own house, or own your own business,” Paul said. “Free money for everyone, they cry — and yet, if free money were the answer, if money really grew on trees, why not give more free money? Why not give it out all the time?” “To so-called conservatives who are quick to identify the socialism of Democrats: If you vote for this spending monstrosity, you are no better,” he said. “When you vote to pass out free money, you lose your soul and you abandon forever any semblance of moral or fiscal integrity.” Paul joined Sens. Rick Scott, R-FL., Mike Lee, R-UT, Marsha Blackburn, R-TN., Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Ron Johnson, R-WI in voting against the bill. See how your Representative in the House voted here. Here are some of the eyebrow-raising items included in the massive spending bill: $700 million to Sudan, groundwork for “a climate advisory council,” $10 million for “gender programs” in Pakistan, $40 million for the Kennedy Center (which already received $25 million in the March CARES Act), a measure stating that China must have no role in choosing the next Dalai Lama and that decisions on the "reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by faith leaders," $135 million to Burma, $85.5 million to Cambodia, $130 million to Nepal, $193 million for “Invasive Species assessment, mitigation and reductions” and another $193 million is set aside for federal HIV/AIDS workers to be able to buy cars while stationed in other countries. America’s federal debt now stands at $27.5 trillion which is the equivalent of $220,000 per US taxpayer. If only the government would apply basic principles of finance to our nation’s astonishing debt. What is clear is this debt load cannot be sustained.
Pray for our nation. Pray for those who have been affected by COVID-19, both physically and financially. Pray for those who represent us in Congress, that they make decisions with wisdom and with foresight for the future they are creating.
Where do you stand on the national debt? Here are a few resources to help you to be able to think well about it from a biblical worldview: Mortality of National Debt, National Debt as a Biblical Issue. For helpful resources on personal debt, visit Crown Ministries.
Virginia Faith Leaders Urge Gov. Northam Not to Enforce New Law Requiring Them to 'Violate' Religious Convictions
Forty Virginia faith leaders have signed onto a letter urging Gov. Ralph Northam and state legislators not to enforce a new law that would require residents to violate their religious convictions. Enacted in July, the "Virginia Values Act" requires churches, and religious ministries and schools to hire employees who do not share the same views regarding sexuality, marriage, and gender identity. Violators will face fines up to $100,000. Similarly, another bill that also became law on July 1, requires churches and religious businesses to include in their health care plans coverage for elective body-altering gender surgeries and bans them from offering sports, parenting classes, and Christian discipleship should they be based on the belief that biological sex is an immutable trait. "Everyone should be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of unjust government punishment — regardless of whether those beliefs are religious. Our government should protect, not threaten, this freedom," the open letter from the faith leaders reads. "Each one of us operates as an organization with core beliefs that knit our staff and volunteers together. These same convictions drive us to serve our communities with a particular mission. We are proud to live by the words of Section 16 of the Virginia Constitution's Declaration of Rights, which declares: 'it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.'' State law, they said, should not interfere with their core mission nor target groups with hostility. If Virginia forces them to choose, they will have no option but to close, the faith leaders added. read more at The Christian Post
Virginia is in the news this week for several stories. A Republican committee in Virginia unanimously passed a resolution censuring Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va., saying he betrayed the party's values when he officiated a same-sex wedding. The Appomattox County Republican Committee cited a list of issues for the outgoing Republican's censure in a lengthy resolution. Among the reasons were that Riggleman officiated a wedding last summer for two male campaign aides, a decision that angered many Republicans in his district. Officially, the Republican platform states, “…the cornerstone of the family is natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman. [We oppose the imposition of] a social and cultural revolution upon the American people by wrongly redefining sex discrimination…reshap[ing]… our entire society — to fit the mold of an ideology alien to America’s history and traditions.” On Monday, in the crypt of the United States Capitol, a team of workers removed the statue of Robert E. Lee that since 1909 has represented the Commonwealth of Virginia in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said it will be replaced with a new statue of Barbara Johns, who at 16 years old led a 1951 walkout at an all-black school for equal education that went on to become part of the US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. And in Virginia Beach, Regent University and its Board of Trustees have named U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann as the new dean of the Robertson School of Government. "Now, more than ever before, our nation needs principled leaders in government, and Regent University is committed to providing excellent government education. I can think of no one better suited to lead our government program than Michele Bachmann," said Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riano, executive vice president for Academic Affairs at Regent University. Reading the stories out of Virginia reminds us to be aware and in prayer for the issues at hand and those leading our own states. Who we elect, especially at the state and local levels can have a tremendous impact on how we live, work, and worship. Have you prayed for your state government recently?
Pray that the “Virginia Values Act” will not be used as a weapon against the church and those who hold a biblical view of marriage and sexuality. Pray for your elected representatives to uphold the Constitution that protects our freedoms.
There are key dates to be aware of in the United States in the next few weeks. Keep these in mind and cover them in prayer:
Dec. 23 – Electoral votes must arrive on Capitol Hill: The USPS has nine days to deliver the certified electoral votes from their states to the Senate in Washington, DC.
Pray for protection and chain of custody for the votes that are being delivered.
Jan. 3 – New Congress is sworn in: Members of the House and Senate take the oath of office at noon in the official start of the 117th Congress.
Pray for the new members of Congress by name. Pray that God’s plans and purposes would be fulfilled in our nation and that our elected officials would legislate in accordance with biblical values.
Jan. 5 - Georgia Senate Runoff elections: Georgia voters will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate in two January runoff elections. Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face competitive challenges from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively. Democrats need to flip both seats to have unified control of the Senate and depending on the Presidential outcome, could determine the direction of the nation.
Pray for the state of Georgia. Pray that these Georgia elections would be conducted without fraud, with transparency, and with integrity.
Jan. 6 – Electoral votes counted: Members of the House and Senate meet in the House chamber. Vice President Mike Pence in his role as president of the Senate presides over the session and the electoral votes are read and counted in alphabetical order by two appointees each from the House and Senate. They give their tallies to Vice President Pence, who announces the results. If there are objections, the House and Senate consider them separately to decide how to count those votes. There are 538 electoral votes: one for each congressman and senator plus three for Washington, DC. If no candidate gets 270 votes, the 435 members of the House decide the election. The House has until noon on January 20 to pick the president and each state gets a vote. If they can’t, it becomes the vice president or the next person in the line of presidential succession.
Pray for order and truth in this process when electoral votes are counted. Pray that constitutional principles are followed. Pray that God’s will for our nation would be fulfilled.
Jan. 20 – Inauguration Day: A new president takes the oath of office at noon. In a disputed election, if the House has not chosen a president but the Senate has chosen a vice president, the vice president-elect becomes acting president until the House makes a choice. And if there’s no president-elect and no vice president-elect, the House appoints a president until one is chosen.
Pray for this next term and the president holding office. Pray that if there is any dispute that our nation would be protected amid disagreement.
Gallup: Churchgoers Only U.S. Group That Avoided 2020 Mental Health Decline
According to a Gallup Poll released, frequent church attendees were the only group in the U.S. that did not experience a mental health decline in 2020. Gallup has conducted its November Health and Healthcare Survey annually since 2001. The 2020 results show 34% of Americans consider their mental health "excellent," and 76% consider their mental health "excellent/good," both are all-time lows. Forty-six percent of Americans who regularly attend religious services said their mental health is "excellent," an increase from last year's 42%. Read more at DISRN News
In June, an estimated 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with some form of mental health or substance abuse issues, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published in August. There was a threefold increase in adults reporting anxiety and four times the reports of feelings of depression compared to the same time the year before, the CDC found. In San Francisco alone, a record 621 people died of drug overdoses so far this year, a staggering number that far outpaces the 173 deaths from COVID-19 the city has seen thus far and a 70% increase from 2018 stats. It’s interesting to note that the Bay Area has the least church-going population of any place in America. Following two rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court last week that sided with houses of worship over state government coronavirus restrictions, Los Angeles County lifted its ban on indoor church services. In a press release issued Saturday, the county declared it was "modifying" its Health Officer Order. We are starving for connection, but we are also in desperate need of community, specifically church community. God has ordained the church, a fellowship of the flawed, to carry out his purpose and will in the world. When we consider the biblical teaching on the church, we realize the church is vitally important for growing in Christ. Like a branch that grows because of its connection to the tree, we thrive when we stay connected to the church. Online church may suffice in this time of restriction, but it should never become the norm. And just as many hope for the vaccine to ebb the pandemic and long for “a return to normal” you don’t need God for that hope. As Christians, our hope is fixed on a Person—on the utter goodness and reliability of the God who intervened in Bethlehem, when all was hopeless. How many times have you heard people say, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.” We can all relate. But are we setting ourselves up for an even bigger loss? Because basically, what we’re saying is, “I’m putting my hope in 2021.” And that’s just not a safe, nor a biblical place for our hope. We put our hope in God, the God of hope! (Romans 15:13) Let us win this battle for hope and belief by seizing the lesson of Christmas: by setting our hopes not on circumstances, but on a Person. He has promised to intervene again, in an even more dramatic way. He’s coming for His Church. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
Pray for those who are struggling to cope with the pressures of their circumstances. Pray for them to see there is only true hope in Christ. Pray for the church to remain steadfast and strong, standing for truth and being a beacon of the hope of Christ to a world that is hurting and disillusioned. Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Your Son on one glorious night to be born of a virgin, to live a perfect life, and to die on the cross for my sins. Thank you that he rose from the dead three days later and that this Christmas and every Christmas we can celebrate the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pastors are under tremendous pressure today and must take on many roles. Take a moment to send your pastoral staff a note of encouragement and spend time in prayer for them, praying over their leadership of your congregation as well as for their protection, strength, and for scripture to be rooted in all they do.
Our team is incredibly thankful for each of you. We pray for God’s blessings over you as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, who is called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Merry Christmas!
My Faith Votes—is a nonpartisan movement that motivates, equips and activates Christians in America to vote in every election, transforming our communities and influencing our nation with biblical truth. By partnering with national faith leaders, My Faith Votes provides resources to help Christians Pray, Think, and Act to create an America where God is honored in the public square.